Monday, 21 April 2014

Quatre Quarts

I was stuck in a post office queue recently and I started to daydream about Brittany. (The place, not a person). By the time I got to the counter, I felt I really had to come home and make a quatre quarts. Although versions of this cake can be found in pretty much any French supermarket, Brittany is its spiritual home. The cake is essentially a pound cake, but it’s all about good butter and in Brittany that means very good, salted butter. Incidentally, the name simply refers to the four quarters, the four ingredients of identical weight that make up the cake - eggs, flour, sugar and butter.

I add a little vanilla to the cake, which I don’t think is strictly authentic but I like it. Depending on whom you ask, baking powder may not be acceptable either, but I don’t care, I use it anyway. If you fancy a variation, chocolate and apple versions are very popular in Brittany too.
Quatre Quarts
This will make enough mixture for a 2 lb (900 g) loaf tin and that’s the more common shape for the cake but you could use a round tin instead (21 cm diameter should be about right). It will also work well in small, individual loaf tins.

This cake reminds me of Carnac. Surely, I can’t be so shallow that I gaze upon one of Europe’s most majestic prehistoric landscapes and think of cake, can I? Well, nobody’s perfect.
Carnac
3 eggs, weighed in their shells (If they're anything like the eggs from the local farm here that will amount to close to 200 g)
The same weight in
     plain flour
     caster sugar
     lightly salted butter (plus a little bit extra for rubbing on the tin)
1½ tsp of baking powder
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract (optional)

Mix the baking powder into the flour. Butter your chosen tin or tins thoroughly and line the base with baking paper just to be sure. Preheat the oven to 160°C.

Soften the butter over a very low heat or in a microwave (it should be very soft but not quite melted). Set the butter aside to cool. Separate the eggs. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together thoroughly until the mixture is very pale. Whisk in the vanilla paste (or extract) if you’re using it. Sieve in a third of the flour and baking powder mix and add a third of the softened, cooled butter. Mix these in well, but try not to beat the mixture too much. Repeat this process twice with the remaining thirds of flour and butter.

Whisk the egg whites to the firm peak stage. Fold the egg whites into the mixture gently but thoroughly. Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the top. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until a knife or cake tester comes out clean. If the top begins to darken too much for your taste, then cover the cake loosely with foil for the last 10 minutes or so of baking. (I've noticed that a lot of bakers in Brittany actually like quite a dark top on this type of cake and bake at a higher temperature to produce it).

Allow to cool a little in the tin before turning out to cool completely on a rack.
Quatre Quarts

17 comments:

  1. A good traditional bake Phil, the cake looks very tempting. Now which Brittany would it have been, if it were a person...?

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  2. Mmmmm, if the top darkens does it taste like browned butter cake? Posh butter, by which I mean very expensive stuff in nice paper made by small dairy companies, has really taken off here in the last few years. Unfortunately, there is still lots of nasty cheap stuff that goes all watery. Give me a slab of cold unsalted and a knife and I'm very happy...

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    1. It does taste like a browned butter cake but, if it's too dark, then I think it's the only thing you can taste, but each to their own. Now usually I'd choose an unsalted butter as well but that will get you odd looks from most Breton bakers. Salted butter is definitely the butter of choice there.

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  3. It looks delicious and, as you say, adaptable with different versions. The apple version appeals to me.
    It's an interesting way of making it, not the "all in one" method I favour for speed, but easier than the creamed method which I find slightly unnerving sometimes. (Possibly because it brings back awful memories of school domestic science lessons, beating furiously with an ancient, cracked wooden spoon and a scratched Pyrex bowl, only to produce something like a large flat biscuit.)
    I have often seen recipes for "pound cake" and reading this in my ancient little French cottage I now feel quite cosy about the idea that it originated in France.

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    1. I like this cake making method and it's one that I've come across quite often in French recipes. I've seen very old recipes that use a similar method which must have been hard work before the invention of electric mixers.

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  4. I love traditional cakes, and this is one of my favourites.Like the sound of an apple version too. Off to Brittany in June so will look our for some.

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    1. Brittany in June sounds delightful to me. I'd always thought of this as primarily a plain cake, but the last time I was in Brittany I came across quite a few apple versions.

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  5. Soundslike something I need to add to my " always on hand" cooking box. Is it really so simple? I must try it out, soon!

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    1. It really is that simple as long as you have some good butter.

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  6. I tend to make all my cakes using equal parts of the base four ingredients, I had no idea that it originates from Brittany! Love the sound of the apple version.

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    1. Well, I can't absolutely guarantee that this kind of cake was first made in Brittany but that's what I was told in Brittany and I make it a rule to avoid arguments with anyone from a region that has bagpipe players.

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  7. Interesting recipe and I like the variations. Hope all is well Diane

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  8. Delicious Phil; I do love a bit of salted butter in a cake, and I can just imagine how good this one is. Simple, few good ingredients really deliver the best results, will look forward to this one.

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  9. Great article, it is nice to read your article..

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  10. Awesome post, thanks for sharing this post..

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  11. not shallow at all. This cake would make me think of Brittany and vice versa. It also looks utterly delicious - I love quatre quarts

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